Caribbean voices were added to the global outcry about climate change when Trinidad and Tobago hosted a march to raise awareness about what many believe to be the single greatest threat to humanity's existence.
In the first installment of this post, Global Voices interviewed Jonathan Barcant, co-founder of the non-profit group IAMovement, and one of the organisers of the local march, which took place in Port of Spain on September 21. Here, we continue the conversation.
Global Voices (GV): Why should people care about climate change, and why do you think some are so sceptical that it's even happening?
Jonathan Barcant (JB): Many people are caught up in living in the moment for the enjoyment of short-lived success, money and immediate pleasures…so much so that something to fly in the face of their lifestyle is simply too contradictory and therefore they may not want to listen, and prefer to take the stance of the sceptic. Any educated and truth-seeking person though, could quickly be convinced by the examination of [scientific] data now easily available [via] documentaries and media. We should all care about climate change because it will have a direct impact on the state of the world. The predicted effects are already being seen and larger effects are expected in just decades. Though we may not be able to imagine it right now, a completely changed world climate, weather patterns, temperatures and ocean conditions in a short space of time spell massive human and economic losses, much of which could be expected to be on the disaster scale. If we think about the type of world our children at home and grandchildren to come will be facing, then we should care about climate change.
GV: What do you think the future world — one that uses clean energy — will look like?
JB: I think that shift to clean energy will also go hand in hand with a shift in consciousness, for the better. People feel good when they know they are doing good and are contributing to something good. It gives a sense of meaning, happiness and empowerment. With this real climate change risk and fear looming, a movement to clean energy will empower mankind in a sense of togetherness, working together to overcome probably the greatest challenge we have ever had to face collectively as a species. A future world that uses clean energy would, for me, look like one with a lot more peace, togetherness, cooperation, innovation and completely renewed faith in humanity. It's not going to happen overnight, that's for sure, but that's what I imagine if we are able to come together and do this.
GV: Do you think the global marches have made a difference? What has the one in Trinidad and Tobago accomplished?
JB: I think we will see in the coming days and weeks how much of a difference the global climate marches have made. There is no doubt that they represent an important historic moment as the largest worldwide gathering (in terms of numbers of people and countries to participate), but their timing with the U.N. Summit in New York will hopefully give the leaders the support and pressure they need to realise that this is an issue which can no longer be ignored, and that true emission agreements must be made and adhered to. The local event, small as it was compared to some countries, was very empowering as caring citizens stood together united on an issue which has been on the back burner for too long. All participants were enthusiastic and grateful that the event took place, and the online post-event support has been very good.
GV: What follow-up action do you have planned?
JB: We actually do not have specific follow up action planned, but of course we do have ideas, and a lot may be based on how the post-success of our event here unfolds, as well as the success of the international events. We are [currently] responding to some media requests and follow up, to support awareness of [climate change] as much as possible. IAMovement will also be meeting to discuss the best way forward to keep this topic strong and [be] available to all who wish to learn more or participate in activities to support the cause.
GV: What would be some of the tangible benefits to Trinidad and Tobago if it were to switch to renewable energy sources?
JB: Some of the benefits of such a model would include employment, long-term harvesting of clean energy (25 years+), an improved international reputation for the country in energy sustainability, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in tourism. Clean energy will invest in the future of our country, giving us long-term energy security, as fossil fuel resources are finite. Most importantly, in the short and medium term, this would not be in competition with or threat to the local fossil fuel industry, which we know cannot disappear overnight. It could in fact be mutually beneficial, from the standpoint of our local resources, as the production of renewable energy means reducing the need for fossil fuel consumption locally, which in turn means more available for sale abroad at the international market price, and removal of local subsidy costs.
Barcant, through his own research, carried out a home-work style study on the theoretical cost of making Tobago's (the smaller of the two islands) electrical grid 100% powered by renewable energy. To do this he drew upon the actual costs of wind and solar projects in Canada and Chile, to determine the rough cost for each megawatt of power, and found that the costs for wind and solar were comparable (at about US$2 million per MW). Along with the assumption that the population of Tobago, as compared to the whole nation, is proportionally representative to their power consumption, he estimated the total cost of making Tobago renewable to be approximately US$72 million.
Trinidad and Tobago's local annual fuel and electricity subsidy is about US$1.1 billion, meaning that the cost to outfit Tobago with clean energy would be theoretically less than one-twelfth of the annual national spend on energy subsidy. Barcant maintains that “although this study is rough and will have some margins of error, it can be nonetheless said, with confidence, that this Tobago model would still only cost a fraction of the annual energy subsidy”, a shocking statistic which he believes demonstrates that renewable energy is not only feasible, but within Trinidad and Tobago's reach.